Ports’ strength is given by rail connections

Ports have a huge significance for European Union imports and exports, ensuring deliveries and distribution not only in the territory, but also in markets outside the region and beyond to all countries. There are complex facilities that not only ensure the mobility of goods, but also provide intra-community physical connections. They can contribute to reducing emissions and costs and to facilitating transport. A truly successful port must provide multimodal connections, and since the EU follows the concept of sustainability and the creation of a carbon neutral continent over the next three decades, and encourages rail and inland waterway transport, seaports must have connections to the railway networks.

by Pamela Luica


However, the ports should provide increased capacity and safety. Although most ports on Europe’s two major types of transport networks (core and comprehensive) are connected to their state railway systems, they are not so optimal as to provide uninterrupted services. Therefore, more and more countries are implementing and planning construction projects, track doubling, infrastructure electrification and signalling system installation to provide a reliable connection that meets transport demands and the level of integration with the entire transport system, and that facilitates access.
The European Union has a network of over 1,400 inland and seaports, with 329 seaports and 103 inland ports located on TEN-T of which 104 are core ports. They provide 75% of Europe’s trade to the rest of the world and more than a third of intra-European trade. They also provide mobility for 400 million passengers. Thus, ports ensure the transport of goods between Member States and connect peripheral and island areas to the central part of the continent, securing easy access for transport.
Ports are essential gateways for access to international markets, being integrated into a comprehensive global network that ensures the mobility of goods, and by using other connections with modes of transport, goods reach their destination from where they are delivered further to consumers.
In addition to its key role in securing goods, ports are an important economic and energy hub and also provide jobs, with over 1.78 million European port employees currently in the EU-28.

Gross weight of seaborne freight handled in all ports, 2009, 2018 and 2019 (million tonnes)

Ports are in themselves industrial locations as they cover energy production and refining activities, port operations in terminals, securing transport connections for mobility, delivery, and receipt of freight. Therefore, seaports make up an ecosystem composed of transport, energy, and industrial systems, contributing to the construction of strategic corridors with added value for Europe’s economy and mobility. Ports are also an important component in achieving the Green Deal objectives of creating a sustainable society and economy because they are in urban areas and the level of pollution in these complex facilities affects the inhabitants and the environment in the region.
According to the latest annual report from the European Commission on emissions from maritime transport, published in 2020, CO2 emissions from this mode of transport were over 138 million tonnes of CO2 (in 2018), representing 3.7% of all EU Member States. While, compared to other modes of transport, maritime transport remains the most carbon efficient mode of transport per tonne, the reported CO2 emissions in the EU based on the fuel sold and also accounting for the inland and domestic navigation, make up around 14% of the total transport CO2 emissions.
The environmental challenges faced by the maritime sector require a continuous optimisation of the energy efficiency of the vehicle fleet, the advancements in the development and deployment of low or zero emissions technologies and the massive use of sustainable alternative fuels.

To reduce its environmental impact, maritime transport has the capacity to decrease its own emissions by using alternative fuels, handling efficient and fast equipment, monitoring the environmental performance of operations and replacing diesel-powered equipment and vehicles.

In addition, because digitisation is another key element of the Green Deal, ports are digitising their operating processes and data sharing, to optimize logistics activities and reduce unnecessary mobility of goods. The automation of the container management, port activities and its infrastructure and present modes of transport contributes to increasing the operational efficiency, delivering goods in a timely manner, reducing costs and integrating services and transport networks throughout the supply chain.
In terms of freight transport in 2018, intra-EU maritime transport was the second most important mode, with a share of 29.2%. By mode of transport, the turnover of the maritime was EUR 126.35 billion. Shipping accounted for 47% of exported goods and 55% of imported goods. Trade outside the EU27 by maritime routes amounted to EUR 1,855.9 billion. In 2019, EU ports handled 3.6 billion tonnes of cargo, with the Netherlands remaining the country with the largest shipping volume, handling 608 million tonnes, accounting for 16.9% of EU handled volume of seaborne goods. Italy ranks second, with a share of 14.2%, and Spain with 13.9%.
Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg have maintained their ranking as the top 3 European ports in terms of both the volume of cargo handled and the volume of containers.


Essential for the TEN-T

Seaports have a complex and strategic role not only in terms of their domestic activity and the provision of exports and imports, but also in terms of their role as a vital hub in connecting with other transport networks, particularly land Interoperable networks encompassing all modes of transport are a firm goal of the EU to create a unique multimodal transport area that operates at high performance parameters.
The health crisis through which the whole world is going has pointed out the importance of the transport and logistics sector in the delivery of goods, especially essential ones, whose mobility requires integrated and uninterrupted networks, and where the development of an efficient and resilient transport infrastructure needs investment; each Member State must consider in its development strategies projects focused on multimodal links between ports, airports, railways, and roads.
Thus, it becomes essential to promote and invest in transport connections between urban nodes, railway stations and hubs, multimodal platforms and sea and river ports, particularly given that the new Strategy for sustainable and smart mobility focuses on shifting traffic to sustainable modes of transport (rail and inland waterways), where the cargo arriving in ports requires strong connections to rail networks.
As vital nodes in the core and comprehensive TEN-T network, the ports are at the intersection with the land transport network which must meet an increased capacity to take over traffic and have efficient and extensive connections and there is a need to facilitate projects to increase synergies between ports and land infrastructure. Whereas rail transport will have to increase by 50% by 2030 and double by 2050, and inland waterway transport and short sea shipping will increase by 25% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050, there is a need to upgrade and develop the infrastructure of this mode of transport and ensure connections with ports.
In the previous multiannual financial framework, the European Commission focused on financing railway infrastructure – through the Connecting Europe Facility which allocated 72% of grants to these projects – and connections with other modes of transport. For example, the integration of these transport systems was highlighted by allocating funds for the development of new rail connections to four seaports, four airports and four railway terminals; also, connections with three airports, 1+ inland ports, 28 seaports and 12 rail-road terminals were optimised.
Seaports have requested and received co-financing through eight different funding priorities, from maritime priorities to innovation and multimodality. Most of the funding was allocated through the Motorways of the Sea priority with 5 projects for cooperation between several countries. There are also other CEF-funded projects that contribute to the European Maritime Space.
Through the MoS and maritime portfolio, CEF Transport funding supported 151 actions that received EUR 1.58 billion, and 6 additional actions with effect on seaports also received funding. Overall, 113 seaports were covered by CEF actions receiving EUR 1.5 billion, 95% of the total funding allocated to maritime projects, with EUR 1.4 billion supporting core port projects and EUR 117 million earmarked for comprehensive projects. This funding also contributed to Core Network Corridors, with EUR 52.4 million invested in other segments of the Core network; also, 13 projects in the maritime portfolio are implementing actions that are not directly related to a particular port. All CNCs benefited from the implementation of maritime projects, especially the Baltic Adriatic, which received the largest EU funding for maritime investment, namely EUR 678 million in grants, of which EUR 54.8 million through the Motorways of the Sea priority.


The European Commission’s analyses estimate that in order to form a core network by 2030 and to have it operating in real terms of performance, speed, connections, sustainability, an investment of approximately EUR 750 billion is needed. However, according to a study by the European Seaports Organisation (ESPO), it is pointed out that Europe’s seaports need investments of EUR 48 billion, with an annual average of EUR 5 billion for the period 2018-2027. This includes not only projects for connections to other networks, but, being complex transport nodes, ports need investment in their own infrastructure, and the challenges also include new trends in ships (size, fuel infrastructure, etc.), decarbonisation projects, digitisation, automation, security, and resilience to climate change.



Regarding the percentage of the type of projects for port infrastructure, the most relevant is the basic infrastructure, with 37%, followed by maritime access, equipment and superstructure and infrastructure for smooth transport flows within the port, each with 8%. In third place, in terms of percentage of the infrastructure category is the connection with the railway network, but also the energy-related infrastructure, each with 7%. The remaining projects concern intermodal and multimodal terminals (5%), road connection and digital infrastructure (4% each) and the areas for logistics and production activities in ports account for 3%.
The conclusion of these figures as pointed out by the ESPO study states that investments in basic infrastructure, maritime access, and transport connections with other modes – rail, road, inland waterways – make up 65% of all port projects submitted by port authorities, according to Port investments survey.
Allocating investments and carrying out transport connection projects are crucial in developing a sustainable transport system that contributes to eliminating congestion, reducing emissions and environmental impact, as an integrated multimodal network leads to better connectivity and modal shift.
In addition, in terms of positioning on the TEN-T, for the connections between the port and the railway system, the largest investment is required for comprehensive ports compared to core ports.
The connections between ports and the railway add value to port users through lower overall transport costs and have a huge potential to increase trade activity due to the extension with the hinterland and to increase the share of sustainable transport, resulting in smaller carbon footprint.
To achieve real performance, the TEN-T network needs connections between ports and the railway, and the last mile that connects the railway network to terminal sidings through the port railway network requires investment.
In addition to the importance of connecting the two modes of transport in order to achieve the European transport system, this is essential to maximise the potential of rail transport and, even if all core and comprehensive network ports are connected to rail networks, investment to improve infrastructure condition is one of the components that can ensure the shift of traffic to sustainable transport, ensuring a coherent connection between the port and the hinterland railway network and to other regions and countries.
Since the success of a seaport is closely linked to its services and especially to its multimodal connections, they shape their development strategies involving the modernisation and expansion of the domestic infrastructure system and the connection to the national and international railways. Perhaps we would assume that the port system requires more than railway for the delivery of goods to the country/countries/regions, however, since the European Union is moving towards shifting traffic to sustainable modes and decarbonisation of the sector, including maritime, now more than ever ports must not only benefit from these connections, but must modernise and expand them to provide the necessary capacity for the freight market.

According to the Progress on TEN-T network, published by the European Commission in 2020, the TEN-T Regulation compliance of the connection of maritime ports to rail is at 89% (in 2017) and in some cases, the existing rail connections are not sufficient in capacity, quality terms or do not go to the last/first mile.
The disruptions concern only 14 ports, more than half of which are in southern Member States including Italy and Greece. It should be noted that the TEN-T standard refers strictly to the connection between the ports and the railway, not to its quality, thus there are limits on the last mile connections of a port, even if it is compatible with the TEN-T standard.


Countries are preparing their links

We can take examples of projects that have focused on these types of connections (rail-port).

Slovenia is carrying out one of the most important transport projects and it covers the doubling of the tracks between Divača and the Port of Koper. The authorities have proposed, cancelled, reconsidered, halted and resumed for 20 years this project with EUR 1.2 billion in investment, of which EUR 153.3 million comes from the EU through CEF, and EUR 250 million from EIB. The line is extremely important and necessary to ensure efficient connection with increased capacity between the two modes of transport and to encourage sustainable transport.
In early May, Minister of Infrastructure Jernej Vrtovec officially launched the construction works that will eventually lead to the creation of a 27.1 km line of which 75% (20.5 km) will be built through eight tunnels, 1 km will be built through two viaducts and 170 metres will be built through two bridges. The works are divided into two sections for which two contracts amounting to EUR 628.3 million were signed with a consortium comprising Kolektor CPG (Slovenia), Yapi Merkezi Insaat and Ozaltin Insaat (Turkey). A contract of EUR 403.6 million was signed for the Divača-Črni Kal rail section, while for the Črni Kal – Koper link, 2TDK, the company responsible for carrying out the project signed a contract worth EUR 224.75 million with the same consortium.
The project should be completed in 2025 when it will be able to operate 231 trains per day, with an annual capacity of 43.4 million tonnes.
The line project is a priority for improving the competitiveness of the Slovenian railway network, and in the context of the EU policy, it contributes to optimising the TEN-T connections and eliminating network congestion between the Port of Koper and the Mediterranean and Baltic-Adriatic Core Network Corridors.

Just 30 km west of the Port of Koper, there is another port – Trieste, Italy, which implements internal railway modernisation projects (has a 70 km system), last mile connections including those to the national railway network. By modernising the railway infrastructure, the TriesteRailPort project will also optimise hinterland accessibility and multimodal connections. The project has a value of EUR 65 million of which EUR 6.5 million has been allocated through CEF and EUR 39 million by the European Investment Bank.
The works will be completed in 2023 when the infrastructure will allow trains over 750 metres long (an increase of 35% compared to the current ones), the marshalling yard capacity will be increased by 80%, and the other facilities will be tailored to the new transport and storage demands.

Rail-port connection projects are being implemented in Spain as well, also in the European context of connectivity for corridors. Last year, Adif signed a EUR 14.5 million contract with Obras y Servicios (Copasa) for the construction of a 5.6 km section with two branches which converge into a third one, forming the Sagunto Port access to the Valencia-Tarragona railway line. The cost of the Sagunto port rail access project is EUR 40 million of which EUR 11.4 million has been allocated through ERDF and EUR 2.78 million through CEF (out of the total eligible cost of EUR 13.65 million). The project should be completed in 2023, allowing a 10% increase in traffic and the creation of connections in the Valencia region, Sagunto hinterland and with the Mediterranean Corridor and Cantabrian-Mediterranean Corridor.
The neighbouring country, Portugal, inaugurated the electrified section Viana do Castelo – Valença on the Minho line at the end of April, when it also celebrated the completion of the electrification of the entire line connecting the ports of Vigo, Viana do Castelo and Leixões. The project now allows the operation of electric trains along its entire length from Valença through Porto and Lisbon to Faro. For freight traffic, electrification and modernisation of the line will result in higher frequency of trains and double traffic. The electrified line “connects the port of Vigo to the port of Viana do Castelo, now benefiting from a direct rail access, and to the port of Leixões. We have managed to have on this Atlantic corridor, a port infrastructure served by a railway connection, which completely changes the picture of the economic relationship on both sides of the border,” António Costa, the Prime Minister of Portugal said.
Portugal is carrying out works with a view to creating the South International Corridor to Spain, and work is currently underway on the Évora North – Freixo section (20.5 km) as part of a project to build an 80 km line connecting Évora North and Elvas (on East Line) providing a direct connection between the ports of Setúbal and Sines and Spain.
Portugal is implementing the Railway Strategy adopted five years ago, which prioritises connectivity projects between the national and international rail network and the ports, adding significant value in terms of reducing environmental impact.
Also, Portugal’s National Investment Programme with a total value of EUR 26.3 billion includes 16 railway projects with an investment of EUR 10.5 billion, of which about EUR 740 million could be allocated to electrification projects to have a complete electrified network.
Farther north, in Europe, the port of Gothenburg, Sweden, is carrying out the project to optimise access to the railway. The 10 km long Port Line connects the port with the rest of the national network and is one of the most important railway lines in the country allowing the transport of freight from all over the Scandinavian region to the port. The line is used on average by up to 70 trains, but since it is a single track, the plan is to double it. Having reached its third phase, the project aims at doubling the tracks between Eriksberg and Pölsebo. The double tracks over the Göta River increase capacity and reduce congestion in the network. About 60% of the port’s container volumes enter or leave the port by rail, and the development of the railway infrastructure is essential to ensure smooth traffic flow that meets transport demands and requirements.
The port has a new transhipment terminal connected to the railway, so that trains can access the port directly through the railway network. Sveaterminalen is one of many port investment projects for the development of railway infrastructure and access to and from the port.
The Port of Gothenburg intends to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030 and the implementation of the Railport shuttle project is one of the key activities in this regard, which will also facilitate connections with the hinterland.
In December 2020, the infrastructure manager in Poland, PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe, signed a PLN 3.74 million (EUR 828,917) contract with Databout for the preparation of a feasibility study on the reconstruction of the Braniewo-Malbork line, which will increase transport volume in Braniewo and Kaliningrad Oblast to Tri-City ports (Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot ports). The study will be the starting point for the project that will develop rail access to ports by modernising the existing 90 km line and building 40 km of new line between Bogaczewo and Braniewo to form an electrified double track. The study will also consider the possibility of building access to the Harbour of Elbląg, providing direct access to the port from Iława, without the need for trains to change the direction of travel in order to access the port. In addition to increased access, the project will provide improved rail connections, allowing longer and heavier trains to run.

Rail access to Tri-City ports is a large programme worth PLN 2.6 billion (EUR 576.25 million) of which 40% is European funding. The project envisages the modernisation and extension of the railway routes to the ports of Sopot, which should be completed by the end of this year.
The optimisation and development of the railway network connection also targets the Swinoujscie and Szczecin ports, for which 21 km of new rails were already installed at the end of 2020. As part of this project there are also plans to modernise 100 km of line and 84 km of traction network and to reconstruct the bridges and viaducts.
The project’s value is PLN 1.5 billion (EUR 332.45 million) of which the EU contributes with funds of PLN 510 million (EUR 113 million) through the CEF. The project is expected to be completed in mid-2022.
The project will allow access to 750-metre-long trains, eliminate network congestion, and reduce the time of receipt and delivery of the constantly increasing volume of freight.
Poland is one of the most active European countries in terms of railway infrastructure modernisation and development projects, constantly attracting European funds and being the largest beneficiary of the funds allocated through the Connecting Europe Facility. Thus, funds of EUR 2.79 billion were allocated through the CEF for 24 projects with eligible costs of EUR 3.79 billion.
Regarding the increase of rail access to ports, in 2019 the Council of Ministers approved a resolution allowing to increase the budget of the National Railway Programme by PLN 3.2 billion (EUR 709 million) by 2023. With this Act, the authorities facilitate the implementation of projects fostering the improvement of rail access to the ports of Gdynia, Gdańsk, Świnoujście and Szczecin.
EUR 300 million is the value of the project to improve rail access to the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Last year, the Port of Rotterdam Authority and VolkerRail signed the contract for the Theemsweg Route project. The company will be responsible for the construction of the line, the overhead lines and the installation of various train protection systems. In 2018, the SaVe consortium, made up of Besix, Dura Vermeer, Mobilis, Hollandia and Iemants, started the substructure works for the 4 km section and two bridges. Due to network congestion, the port authorities have launched the Theemsweg Route project to increase accessibility and connection to the hinterland. In the port, the Betuwe Route section will be redirected, and the new route (Theemswegtracé) will be the answer to the traffic problems in Calandbrug near Rozenburg. The 4 km line will start from Merseyweg via a viaduct along Theemsweg to Moezelweg via Neckarweg. The new line will cross two bridges and reconnect to the existing infrastructure. In the spring of 2020, the two bridges (290 metres and 177 metres) were built. This project, which should become reality by the end of the year, is part of the port’s plans to encourage and increase sustainable transport connections, optimising access to the railway network and increasing the efficiency of rail transport.

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